As always, I’ll attempt to keep these reviews brief, because 16 books in, I assume only fans are reading this, to validate their own opinions of the book, or see what speculation other people have bout where this book is headed. If that’s you, there’s a long spoiler section at the end of these reviews that contains my speculation about the plot thread I’m most interested in, I tried not to waffle too much, so I kept my theories to one situation. If you’re intrigued, keep reading.
When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear?
THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET SERIOUS FOR HARRY DRESDEN, CHICAGO’S ONLY PROFESSIONAL WIZARD, in the next entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files.
Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.
But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way.
Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.
I’m reviewing these books together because they occur back to back, and were originally joined into one book, so the first thing I’m going to comment on is the ease with which they flow into one another. For the most part, the books read well as a single jumbo book; with one exception. In Peace Talks, Harry has a major showdown with another key character. I’m not going to name the character to avoid spoilers, but it’s a major part of the showdown. A secret Harry has been keeping for about half the series is revealed, and a very dramatic showdown ensues. In Battle Ground, Harry encounters this character again, and they both act like nothing happened. Had the books been released further apart, I might have forgotten they had had such a major conflict, or assumed they’d already addressed it, but they didn’t. I hope this is addressed in future books, because it did seem like something of a plot hole.
There is also a slight lag at the beginning of Battle Ground as Harry and his friends run from one fight to another, and there wasn’t enough emotional tension to keep it from seeming like we were killing time until the action started back up.
While Peace Talks felt like a classic heist novel that also finished on a cliffhanger, Battle Ground was worth the frustration of having to wait to receive it*, and absolutely epic and involved enough to be worth half a book’s lead-up. Seventeen books into a series, there were a lot of characters to tie in and involve in the struggle to make the apocalyptic threat real, and I enjoy the way things come full circle (with some glaring changes) by the end of Battle Ground, though I can appreciate that some people might be frustrated by Harry seemingly taking one step forward and two steps back. I felt that way only in the relationship front, and while I usually avoid spoilers entirely, I need to talk about some things, so there’ll be a spoiler section at the end of this review—don’t read it before you’ve read the books unless you like ruining twists and emotional impact for yourself.
I loved the tone switch up of Peace Talks—I’m a big fan of heist storylines, especially with unlikely team-ups, and I love it when a former character shows other sides. I’m glad Lara became something more than a chance to show how desperately horny Harry is at all times.
However, the plot of Peace Talks was very similar to Skin Game in that Harry was forced by Mab to team up with/obey someone he otherwise wouldn’t, though Harry’s motivation in Peace Talks was far more personal, and there was of course the traitor, the coming war and the White Council politics to drive the plot forward. I really enjoyed Skin Game, so that’s absolutely affecting my judgement as well, but I thought Peace Talks was another great addition to the Dresden Files series.
Battle Ground was fantastic for the overall series progression, but I do think it was slightly weaker as a stand-alone book. A lot happens, but I felt like most of what happened were that plot lines from other books were tied up, rather than many things being introduced and resolved in their own right. I enjoyed Battle Ground, it was fantastic, but if you’re hazy on the events of the previous Dresden Files series maybe refresh yourself before you read—especially Peace Talks.
I wish Molly had played a bigger role in this book, as her absence (while explained) seemed
One thing I thoroughly enjoyed in both books was the emphasis on the importance of making decisions you can live with, no matter what external pressures attempt to force your hand. Harry’s continued morality, despite the myriad of temptations and struggles he faces, is what separates him form the villains, and I love the supporting characters who emphasise the importance of sticking to your guns even when you’re outmatched. The ‘Za lord’s army, the knights of the bean, Butters in his new role, the Einherjar and the mortal police all fight for their city and their people in this novel, and as always I think fantasy is the perfect way to remind people that evil only wins if people let their environment affect their choices and behaviour. Christmas Eve was a nice wind down from the dramatic events of Battle Ground, and I enjoyed seeing Harry and Michael interact now that they’re both fathers, and Mouse is always a nice touch.
Due to the interwoven nature of two such late-series books there’s not much else I can discuss without spoilers, and anyone reading a review of book 16 and 17 of a series have (hopefully) already read the series, but I’ll give recommendations anyway. Peace Talks and Battle Ground (though read the Dresden Files from the beginning, for your own sake) would appeal to fans of Rob Thurman’s Trickster novels, those who enjoyed Megan Whalen Turner’s Queens’s Thief series, readers of Seanan Mcguire’s October Daye books, or if you like pulpy urban fantasy in general.
*I had the same frustrating experience of my pre-order being delayed indefinitely, and once again I had to cancel and buy from a different store. Pandemics sure do throw international shipping into a shambles
DON’T READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOKS
FOR REAL, I’M GOING TO BE MENTIONING MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS PRETTY MUCH CONSTANTLY FROM NOW ON
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
I wasn’t overly surprised by the twist at the end, partially because I read a fan theory about it on Reddit after Peace Talks, but also because walkers have been behind most (all?) of the big Chicago disasters Harry’s had to clean up, usually wearing a lesser villain as a mask, so that being the big reveal behind Battle Ground fell a little flat, especially because of how vague Ethniu’s specific motivations were, it made sense that she was just a puppet of the Walkers. I also was pretty underwhelmed by the final reveal of the traitor, though as this happened towards the end of the book, I expect this is something to expect in future books. Harry’s conjuritis issue also didn’t really resolve, and only showed up a couple of times in Battle Ground, even though in Peace Talks this was used as a plot development to drive tension. I wish it had been left for future books if it was going to become irrelevant in the book immediately after, because any tension or mystery it brought to Peace Talks then seemed false.
I felt like the Black court vampire angle was a bit repetitive, while we’re on the topic of ‘plot threads that seemed overly convenient. The White Court is relevant—especially with Thomas and Justine’s baby’s fate being especially uncertain—the red court is dead, and that basically maxes out my caring about vampire bullshit. Dracul popping in to deal some casualties, steal some allies, force Harry to demand answers about the starborn stuff and disappear again for no real reason, seemed a bit clumsy. There was a ton already happening, and I do think casualties were necessary to make the point that war is terrible; and I’m glad we didn’t have to deal with half a book of Harry looking over his shoulder— I just wish the black court had suffered more significant losses to make their retreat seem more logical.
The foreshadowing leading up to Murphy’s death and subsequent reincarnation as an Einherjar was excellent, and I think it was well done. Likewise Marcone’s taking up of a coin, and I am here for Marcone having magic, and Harry being annoyed that Marcone is stealing his job, his town, and his lab was hilarious, as was his eventual con to get his home back, with some upgrades.
That’s my spoilery commentary done, now on to some spoiler filled speculation!
It’s been pretty broadly hinted at that Harry won’t remain the Winter Knight, as useful as it has been narratively to have Harry gain power while remaining the underdog thanks to this position. I was fascinated by Harry gathering people under a banner in this book, and look forward to the repercussions of this in future books: Jim Butcher tortures his characters well.
That being said, I believe Mab attempting to force Harry to marry Lara could be an attempt to have him break away now that he’s dealt with the threat. The ending of this novel pretty much established—if the previous Winter Lady/nemesis stuff didn’t—that Mab is on the side of the good guys, even if she herself is morally grey (and after Harry’s new burn scar he’s hardly lily white himself, which I love), so I doubt she’s making Harry marry Lara to corrupt him.
The only options that I can see, then, are that she’s trying to make him marry Lara in the throes of his grief to make him rebel and throw off the mantle; which doesn’t make much sense because Mab hardly seems likely to throw away a weapon before the battle is done, unless Harry’s mysterious starborn abilities require him to be a free agent, which would fit with Mab’s satisfaction at Harry’s continued morality and defiance.
There are of course other possibilities—that Mab wants Harry to admit (now that he’s not tied to the White Council) that Thomas is his brother, that she’s testing his loyalty and/or keeping him away from Molly—because Lara clearly knows about the torch Molly is carrying for Harry, and wishes she weren’t the one who had to extinguish it; or that Mab genuinely thinks the marriage will help present a stronger and united front between Winter and their allies. But I think Harry will have to leave Winter sooner or later, and I’m impatient enough for that particular showdown that I may be expecting it too soon.
If you read the books (and if you just read the slew of spoilers up there and haven’t, shame on you) let me know which theory behind Mab’s motivations makes the most sense to you. It’s Mab, so I doubt it will be anything straightforward, but I am very excited to see what comes next.